Dancing at Trafalgar Square  
- Nayana Bhat, Bangalore  
August 28, 2007 

As I step on the English soil, my mind is stressed yet enthusiastic.  Stressed for we have to perform in front of a crowd that is alien to us.  The audience is going to be a bunch of people that is unaware of the kind of dance we are presenting.  And we are unsure of how the reception will be.   I am enthusiastic for some obvious reasons.  First of all, it is my first trip abroad.  And it is the enthusiasm that comes with representing your country with your work to a new set of audience and convincing them of your proficiency.  

The official in Gatwick airport, who's checking my visa, asks, "Are you here for a show?"  I nod my head as he continues, "Are you a Bollywood dancer?"  I am not sure what to feel.  I just smile at him and say, "No I am not."  The sudden loss of interest is evident on his face as he returns my passport.  

After an hour-long drive through the quiet roads of London suburbs, the eight of us reach the bustling core of London city.  Our excitement is heightened as we near the Trafalgar Square.  The sight of a white Taj Mahal model next to the Nelson tower exhilarates me. Everyone around me is equally animated to see the location that is going to be the testing ground for our work.  

We spend a night, resolving to ourselves to give our best at the show that is on the next afternoon.  On the 4th morning, we are at the venue for an onstage rehearsal of two long hours.  As we stand on the open-air linoleum dance floor, set up in front of the ancient National Gallery, we realize that the sun is not going to be any favorable to us.  The harsh, raw sunlight burns our skin, with us squinting our eyes to avoid the bright sunlight.  

As we warm up and prepare to dance, we have more things to worry about.  The music echoes fourfold against the walls of the gallery and we aren't able to follow the monitor. The rhythm goes haywire as all of us are confused to follow one particular track. 

We unanimously decide that we dance for our usual counts, irrespective of the music that we hear.  But by the end of the first piece, we are exhausted.  The sun continues to mock at us and all of us are panting for breath.  The second piece gets only worse, with our energy levels dropping lower.  We pull ourselves through the lame rehearsal of the remaining two pieces and slump in the dressing room.  The terrible heat has more effect on our minds than our bodies as it has come to us unexpected.  We still have one more round of rehearsals to go before we retire into our air-conditioned rooms.  

Mayuri, our director, tells us that the second round will be only a run-through and we did not have to perform our best.  It will be only to get accustomed to the heat.  We get back on the dance floor.  There is a small crowd of audience around us, keen on watching us for a second time, giving us a moral push to dance despite the heat.  Second time is no better than the first.  But we know what to expect.  We are ready to dance for counts and not to the music and we are ready to let the sun seep through our clothes leaving behind a dark tan.  

That afternoon as we walk up to the dressing room near the venue, we see a massive crowd of nearly 3000 people waiting to watch us.  All of us are slightly nervous, mostly because of the ruthless sun and partly because we are anxious to know how the crowd will accept us.  It's been a routine for us to do our prayers together before the show.  And as we offer our prayers, hug each other and wish each other luck, we are left only with the determination to perform our best, the rest being immaterial. 

As our show announcement takes place, one of the security men looks at us and asks, "Are you guys Bollywood dancers?"  I smile and say no.  Our presenter, Mr. Sanjeev informs us that painter MF Husain will be present at the show.  It is time for us to get on the dance floor.  We take our positions, standing with our heads held high, hands tied behind.  The music flows in, the movements begin and the rest of the world slowly fades away.  

The first composition, 'Dashavatar' is successful in creating an impression in the audience.  The applause says it all.  It is a traditional piece, depicting the ten avatars of Lord Vishnu and the spectators are evidently mesmerized by the spiritual mood that the piece has in it. 

After a swift costume change, we rush back for our second piece 'Tha.'  I see Mr.  Husain seated in the front row under an umbrella with a hint of a smile.  'Tha' is more of a rhythmic, technical piece.  It entirely constitutes of what we call Nritta in traditional Indian dance.  It starts off slowly and builds up and finally reaches the crescendo.  The movements are typically Indian, majority of influence coming from our own Kalaripayattu, the martial art form from Kerala.  The acrobatic movements hold the audience by their breath.  The piece is received with a louder round of applause, giving us better reasons to perform under the killer sun. 

The third time we get back on the dance floor, I still see Mr. Husain seated firmly on his seat.  I remember what Mr. Sanjeev had said, "He is a very restless man. Doesn't care to watch something that fails to interest him."  It isn't the time to ponder over things.  As the music flows in, I dance to a song that has never failed to give me goose bumps.  The composition 'Kaali' depicted nine forms of the goddess Kaali, the divine victory over the evil.  

The dance ends after a climax of the goddess killing the demon act, leaving the audience spellbound.  They continue clapping even after we have exited the stage. After the show, speaking to the English media that mob him, MF Husain says, "You just saw Maa Kaali here.  Years ago you had conquered us and now it's our turn." 

The last piece for the evening is 'Footnotes,' my personal favorite -a piece of high energy item, joy oozing out of each movement, the music being one of the best I have danced for.  Highly inspired by Kolata, the folk dance of rural India, 'Footnotes' brings out the real spirit in me. The movements are raw, the usage of sticks help me let out the energy and the occasional cries just add to the wonderful range of percussion instruments used in the piece.  It is brisk, swift and all of us are gleeful, for the right reasons of course.  We know that we have been received well and we all love to dance for this peppy number.  

As our performance ends with the artistes' introduction, people don't stop clapping, and we can't stop smiling.  We have performed at the Trafalgar Square and it's been a pleasure.  

Nayana Bhat is a dancer with Bangalore based contemporary dance company Nritarutya, that performed at the Trafalgar Square in the India Now Festival, on the 4th and 5th of August 2007.